Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Xzibit plays the race card in Australia

I wouldn't have even known US rapper Xzibit was touring Australia if he hadn't caused a little stir by labelling the staff of one of the highest rated shows on Australian TV as racist. He was slated to appear on a show called "Rove Live", a "tonight" style show named after the host Rove McManus.

The main reason I wouldn't have know he was touring is the guy has zero profile in Australia. Only the most mainstream of US hiphop/rap acts get commercial coverage here. I know the guy hosts "Pimp my Ride" on MTV but I have no idea how his music is regarded or how much he actually sells in the US. He was pretty much guaranteed a hardcore of fans making his tour successful but the mainstream media was ignoring him as far as I could see (i.e. I saw no mention of him at all until his fracas with Rove).

Apparently the pre-arranged deal was that Xzibit would have a rap-off with king of bland, middle-of-the-road jazz guy Michael Buble. Wacky incongruous juxtaposition humour at work here. As an aside, I fucking hate Michael Buble. With Xzibit I'm neutral but that fucked-up, blanded out Sinatra wannabe Buble can burn in hell.

When it came time to do the performance it looks like Xzibit's ego came into play. A rapper with an oversized ego - who would've guessed. Why can't rappers be humble like, I dunno, bloggers. It seems Xzibit didn't want to perform the double act (he said the "shit was wack" on his MySpace blog) and wanted a solo spot. The Rove Live staff said this wasn't going to happen as (a) the music spot for the show was already lined up and (b) he wasn't interesting enough to the show's demographic.

It seems as far as the show was concerned, they were doing Xzibit a favour by giving him any time at all, not the other way around. Xzibit says a staffer phrased this along the lines of “you know we came a long way just having you on the program”. He took this as racist, as in "you're lucky we let black people on this white person's show," and stormed out. I think he was off the mark taking this as racism, the truth as far as Xzibit is concerned is far worse.

So far as Australia goes, Xzibit is pretty much a nobody. That's gotta hurt.

This practice of using the race card has, sadly, become a bit of a joke. There is no doubt that different people face prejudice every day in their lives but reflexively calling "racist" whenever a white person disagrees with a black person (for instance) helps nobody. Some people might conflate this with the situations faced by Michael "Kramer" Richards and Don Imus but they're light years apart.

I personally think both Richards and Imus are in a bit of a grey area (are they actively racist or just stupid?) but the Xzibit/Rove issue is only remotely related. Thinking about it from Xzibit's point of view (and pretending for a moment that he isn't an egotistical goon) I can see where being told "You're lucky we're even allowing you on" could feel like a racist slur. He's probably copped racism his whole life and faced being excluded repeatedly because of the colour of his skin. But viewing every impediment placed in your path as an example of racism doesn't help anyone.

It's like the old "you people" joke. I've seen it used in comedies dozens of times - a white person can't use the phrase "you people" around black people or it seems like they're making a racist reference to all black people rather than simply referring to the people in front of them whose race may or may not be an issue. Actually, the t-shirt I wear in the accompanying video might get me in trouble in ways I hadn't considered up until now.

When every impediment placed in a minority's path is labelled racist (or sexist or religiously intolerant) that undermines real instances of racism etc. People who aren't racist get sick of having to walk on eggshells and people who are racist blithely say "oh, they're just playing the race card again."

One thing worth pointing out that white folks often gloss over is that the playing field isn't level. The question is often put forward "Why are there exclusively black beauty pageants when you'd get crucified if your tried to run an exclusively white beauty pageant?" This question presupposes that the "open" beauty pageants don't implicitly (at least) value standards of beauty that work against non-white contestants. The historical records of winners at least make this a dubious proposition.

Second, there can be a significant positive boost to a community's self-esteem when they are able to celebrate the strengths of their own community by judging the best of their own rather than coming second to someone else. I think voluntary ghetto-isation is a losing proposition long term but segregated competitions can be a confidence builder and a stepping stone to truly open competition.

All of which is spoiled when a self-important rapper's ego can't deal with the fact that he really isn't very popular with a given demographic. This puts me in mind of a reality TV show I'd like to see: "World's Biggest Ego". It could feature ego-driven rappers, spoilt teen pop queens, aging rock pigs, elite sport stars and movie stars all competing to show they had the most distorted view of their own self-worth. It would be like a truly gruesome car wreck - so horrific, you couldn't look away.

No comments: